By Rami Shapiro
A REVIEW OF THE COMING AGE OF INTERSPIRITUALITY
Is there any hope for real change in the human condition? Kurt Johnson and David Ord certainly think so, and I am grateful to them for The Coming Interspiritual Age and its optimism. But I wonder…
Their fear is that without the influence of Interspirituality and the Perennial Wisdom it carries we are doomed to a globalism of greed dominated by special interests — political, social, economic, and, I would add, religious — that promote a corporatist state run by ever more powerful plutocrats, Capitalist and Communist, who plunder the planet in the name of God and greed, the two becoming almost synonymous over time.
Can Interspirituality save us from this globalized Military-Industrial-Media-Religion Complex? Despite Thomas Jefferson’s wonderful but largely illusory separation wall, religion, politics, media, and the military have always gone hand in hand, and I don’t see how anything is going to change that.
At the heart of Interspirituality as I understand it are the five tenants of Perennial Wisdom:
- there is only one Reality (call it God, Tao, Dharmakaya, Brahman, Great Spirit, etc.) that is the nondual source and substance of all creation;
- that while each of us is a manifestation of this Reality most of us identify with something far smaller, i.e. the alienated ego that seeks something greater by serving not God (Reality) but ideology (talk about Reality);
- that this misidentification gives rise to a zero-sum winner-takes-all world marked by needless fear and unnecessary suffering;
- that realizing our true nature as a manifestation of this nondual Reality leads to a nonzero world of compassion and cooperation; and
- that the great sages and mystics of every people throughout history have discovered and rediscovered these truths and articulated them in the language of their time and culture.
I am, as my Rebbe, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, once put it, a Jewish practitioner of this Perennial Wisdom. And while I find that the more I realize and live this wisdom the freer I am from the madness of the zero-sum world perpetuated by the Military-Industrial-Media-Religious Complex, I just cannot muster the optimism to believe, with Johnson and Ord, that Interspirituality (even when understood as the Perennial Wisdom) can free humanity as a whole from this madness.
Not that The Coming Interspiritual Age is Pollyannaish. In fact when speaking of the new Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) the authors explain how CSR exposes a real threat to the human future: our inability to think critically and work with actual facts. This is especially true among religions, and becoming all the more true in other fields as well, especially aspects of the media and politics. We live in a fact-free world where opinion trumps truth, and where the farther from truth an opinion falls the more sacred and inviolable it becomes.
But religion, the field with which I am most familiar, isn’t about critical thinking or facts. Religion is about branding and brand building. The claim of the 3rd century bishop Saint Cyprian of Carthage that “outside the Church there is no salvation” is no more factual that Coca-Cola’s claim to being “the real thing.” The same is true of Judaism’s claim that Jews are God’s Chosen, and Islam’s claim that Mohammed is the seal of God’s prophets. These aren’t facts but mere assertions, and their aim isn’t to prove truths but to solidify loyalty to one’s brand. So, if religion has little to do with fact and truth, how can Interspirituality change this?
Like Johnson and Ord I link Interspirituality with contemplation, mysticism, and the Perennial Wisdom that contemplative practices reveal. And, like them, I believe that the wiser people become the freer they are from the jingoism of religion, nationalism, and other zero-sum ideologies that lead us to build a world where winners take all, and losers are doomed and often damned. But, unlike them, I see no evidence that this is happening.
The number of humans devoted to serious contemplative living in any culture at any time is terribly small. Most people have neither the interest in nor the stamina for deep spiritual practice. While the number of Nones — people with no religious affiliation — and SBNRs — people claiming to be spiritual but not religious — may be growing, the number of serious contemplatives is not. Yes, as Johnson and Ord point out, three million people have purchased Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now since it was published in 1997, but one hundred million Bibles are sold each year! If the former leads us toward Interspiritual freedom, the later, especially when filtered through the lens of zero-sum religionists, leads us deeper into the ceaseless warring of a winner-takes-all world.
Johnson and Ord argue that if brand name religions don’t accept a multi-cultural and non-zero world they will either fade away or spark a worldwide conflagration that will spell the end of humankind. While I would say that it isn’t only religion that must change, I doubt that even religion can make the shift. Nor can I believe that religion will fade away. That leaves only global catastrophe. Sadly, this I can believe.
There is much to learn from The Coming Interspiritual Age, and I urge you to read this book in order to change your own life. As for saving the planet, however, only you can do that, and there just may not be time.